I’m a slow traveller. I’ve taken only one return flight in the last 8 years – and that was to prove to myself that I wasn’t not flying out of pride or habit.
So while the other Thighs of Steel cyclists packed up their bikes and drove out to Sofia airport for a three-hour flight home, I cycled down to the bus station for the first leg in a journey that took three days.
Sounds slow, right?
But ‘slow’ is a relative concept. Taking only 3 days to cross a continent is still pretty quick, when you think about it. The relentless wheel-turning of the Thighs of Steel crew took 5 weeks to make the journey from London to Sofia. If I’d walked, the 2400km hike might have taken 100 days.
One of my favourite bits of stand up is by disgraced comedian Louis CK (proof you can do gross things and still be funny). You can usually find it pirated online under the title ‘Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy’.
It’s really worth watching the whole thing, but this is the excerpt that’s pertinent to the experience of slow travel:
People say there’s delays on flights. Delays? Really? New York to California in 5 hours. That used to take 30 years – and a bunch of you would die on the way there, and have a baby. You’d be a whole different group of people by the time you got there!
Now you watch a movie and you take a dump and you’re home.
I didn’t die, give birth or watch any movies on my transcontinental voyage, but I did take about 6 dumps en route home – and that’s exactly as it should be.
Travelling the slow way meant that I could unwind my cycling legs, make new buddies during an 8-hour border crossing, browse the secondhand bookshops of Budapest, relax for a couple of hours in a hot spring spa, ride across the cycling paradise that is The Netherlands, shop for cheese in Den Haag, play two-truths-and-a-lie with fellow tourers on the ferry, and finally cadge a lift in a van heading west to home.
For me, that doesn’t sound like a slow journey, and the 8-hour border crossing didn’t feel like a delay. It’s something else. It’s something that I think is well worth the time and the money it costs me because it’s something I enjoy far more than simply ‘getting there’.